Discuss the function of deception and masks in Tartuffe.
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Whether it is Tartuffe himself who wears a mask to beguile those around him, or Elmire who pretends to court Taruffe in order to expose his true nature to her husband, it is clear that deception and masks are practiced by many of the characters in this play. Moliere actually exposes the majority of the characters as being willing to put on masks to their own benefit, even those that perhaps may be rather surprising. For example, consider Dorine's rather shrewd assessment of the irrascible Madame Pernelle, Orgon's mother, who is of course a firm believer in Tartuffe himself and who has been bamboozled by his masks and deception:
Oh, yes, she's strict, devout, and has no taint
Of worldliness; in short, she seems a saint.
But it was time which taught her that disguise;
She's thus because she can't be otherwise.
So long as her attractions could enthrall,
She flounced and flirted and enjoyed it all,
But now that they're no longer what they were
She quits the world which fast is quitting her,
And wears a veil of virtue to conceal
Her bankrupt beauty and her lost appeal.
According to Dorine, the supposed virtue of Madame Pernelle is only an outward veneer that is deliberately put on like a mask in order to conceal her aging and her decrepitude. This is why Madame Pernelle seems like a "saint," but only because that is the only disguise that is open to her now. The "veil of virtue" is the only mask that she can put on. Such a focus on masks and deception raises one of the central themes of the play which concerns the relationship between lies and the truth. It is very interesting that Damis, through his strategy of telling the truth, only causes more trouble, whereas characters such as Elmire who are willling to deceive and put on masks, achieve their goals. Moliere seems to be pointing out that lies are sometimes very useful tools for the discerning, as they can achieve more in this corrupt world than truth ever will.
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